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Volume X - Sufi Mysticism


Poetry (2)

The poet was born first and poetry came afterwards; poetry was born in the spirit of the poet. It is said in the East that as one can already see in the cradle what features the child will have later, so one can recognize a poet before he learns to speak. And poetry came before language, for it is the poetic spirit in man that made language. Thus, the poet is not the son of language, but its father; instead of only taking words, he makes them. If it had not been for the poet, the language of all races would only have been shouting and howling. In all the different aspects of life, we can recognize the signs of inspiration most fully in the poet; and there is no doubt great truth in the saying that the poet is a prophet, though it would be still better to say that the prophet is a poet.

Poetry is the best art there is, for besides everything else it is also drawing or painting with words. The mission of poetry is the same as the mission of the other forms of art. Poetry is a living picture, a picture that says more than a painting on canvas; and its mission is to inspire. Poetry comes to a poet through the suffering caused by disappointment; but any pain or suffering is a preparation. Just as in order to be able to play on a violin, the violin must first be tuned, so the heart must be tuned in order to express wisdom. The heart is tuned by suffering, and when the heart has suffered enough pain, then poetry comes. The natural birth of poetry takes place on the day when the doors of the heart are opened. Poetry comes from the heart quality; it is an expression of the love nature.

There is an example in the Sanskrit language of what has been said above, that poetry comes before learning, In Sanskrit many everyday words rhyme. Mother and father rhyme: matr and patr. Also brother and friend rhyme: britra and mitra. And if one goes through the Kosha, which is the Sanskrit dictionary, one will find that all the words which are related to one another in some way rhyme. This shows that for the ancient people, poetry was the everyday language. In other words, their everyday language was poetry.

There is a Sanskrit saying which is perhaps an exaggeration, but it is significant: that a man without any interest in music and poetry is like an animal without a tail. If we wish to compare music with poetry, we can only say that poetry is the surface, and music is the depth, of one and the same thing. As with mind and heart – the surface is the mind and the depth is the heart – so it is with poetry and music. The ancient poets were not only poets, but also singers. They composed poetry and they sang, and the perfection of the soul could be seen in these two faculties: the faculty of poetry, and at the same time its expression in the form of music. Those who separate music from poetry are the same as those who separate religion from life; they are interested in separating everything.

When we study the earliest Sanskrit poetry, we see that it was composed of words which had a fixed measure, each word containing three consonant root-letters to which different vowels were attached. This divided them into two kinds: words of one syllable, and words of two syllables. For instance, to the consonant root mtr could be attached one vowel a, giving matr, mother, or two vowels i and a, giving mitra, friend. The arrangement of the words thus composed formed a meter, and there were a great number of these meters in use.

The rhythms in which the ancient people composed their poems were taken from the rhythm of nature: the rhythm of the air, the rhythm of running water, the rhythm of a flying bird, the rhythm of waving branches. All these rhythms were taken from nature, and on them the poets based their poetry. They tried to keep near to nature, so that nature could teach them. And to each of these ancient rhythms or meters, they gave a name that was related to something in nature. For instance, there is a rhythm called Hamsa, after the sound of a bird of that name. Poets used the rhythm of the Hamsa's call in the composition of their poetry.

Thus, the Sanskrit poets were very particular about the psychology of rhythm, words, letters, and syllables. They found that poetry had a mantric effect, which means that poetic inspiration creates a certain effect in the same way as mantrams or sacred words. Thereby, a person might unwittingly bring about bad luck or good luck for himself or for others, or be the cause of harm or success for someone.

There are superstitions that when a certain bird makes a sound it is a warning of coming death; this superstition exists in many different countries. It means that the sound this bird makes creates a destructive rhythm, and whenever that sound is heard it causes a destructive vibration. It is the same with poetry; the arrangement of words, syllables, and letters all have an effect. When the wind blows from the North, the South, the East, or the West; when it blows straight, slanting, zigzag, upward, or downward; it can cause different conditions in the atmosphere. It may bring the germs of a plague, it may culminate in a storm, it may create heat or cold, it may change the season, or it may cause destruction, good health, cheerfulness, or depression among people. And when by his breath, which can be likened to the wind that blows in the world, the voice of a singer pronounces a certain letter, then that breath has to take a certain direction. Either it goes upward or downward, to the right or to the left, straight or zigzag; and in accordance with this direction, it has an influence upon a man's life.

One might think that if breath has such an influence on man's life, it is only for himself, whereas the influence of the wind is for the whole country, perhaps for the whole world; but man is more powerful than the world, though he may not realize it. The ancient people used to say that one man can save the world and the thought of one man can cause a ship to sink. If one wicked thought can cause a ship to sink, what a great power man has! The reason is that the wind is not so directly connected with the divine spirit as is the breath of man, and therefore man's breath is more powerful than the wind. Modern psychology supports the idea that the meaning of every word acts upon our life and has an influence on the lives of other people. Poetry can thus be considered to be a psychological creation, something with psychological power, either for good or for ill.

What was most remarkable about the poets of the Sanskrit age was that all their lives they practiced diction, the right pronunciation of every syllable and sound. Everything had to be in rhythm; in addition, it had to be of the right tone and it had to set up the right vibrations. And the most learned men, not only among poets but among doctors and others, spent half an hour or longer every day in practicing and pronouncing different syllables and words, so that they could speak with greater fluency. Just as a singer today practices pronouncing every word clearly, so did the poets of that time, because they believed in the influence of sound – how it is produced, and what effect it has.

The Vedas, which are supposed to have come from the divine source, are all in verse, as are the Puranas and other sacred scriptures of ancient times. This shows that when the divine mind wished to express itself, it did not do so crudely; it always expressed itself in a fully poetic, rhythmic, and lyrical form. So often we meet people who proudly and boldly say, 'I speak the truth. I do not care whether anybody likes it or not. I have the courage to tell the truth no matter if it hurts or kills.' But they do not know what truth means; they do not know that truth comes in the form of poetry, of music, of delicacy and fineness.

After the Sanskrit age came the Prakrit age. Poetry became more human, and not as philosophical and scientific as in the Sanskrit age. At this time, the poet began to conceive in his mind different pictures of human nature and character; this was called Rasa Shastra, the science of human nature. In writing lyrics, they distinguished between three aspects of love, and they classified the female and male natures in four different aspects.

It has always been the poet's natural inclination to set the feminine aspect of life and of nature on a high pedestal. It is this that inspires the poet to give a beautiful form to all that he creates. Thus, poets of great repute in all ages have always been attracted by the moon. They have not written so many lyrics about the sun, as they had more appreciation for the feminine aspect of creation. For the same reason, the crescent was the sign of the Prophet; for if a prophet were not responsive to God as the crescent moon is to the sun, illumination would not come to him. It is through his response to the voice of God that a prophet receives or conceives in his spirit the message that he then gives to humanity.

Kings at all times have been very much interested in knowledge and learning,. Their association with poets softened their character, and balanced their warlike tendencies, their roughness and crudeness. The poets helped the kings to look at life in a different way. It was the poetic inspiration of the emperor Shah Jahan that built the Taj Mahal. If it had not been for poetry, he would not have become such a great lover.

The one who reads poetry, the one who enjoys poetry, and the one who writes poetry must know that it is something which does not belong to this earth. Rather, it belongs to heaven. In whatever forms one shows one's appreciation and love for poetry, one really shows one's appreciation and love for the spirit of beauty.

checked 18-Oct-2005